Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Playing with Time, a guest post by G. Z. Schmidt

In grade school, we were taught that a story has a beginning, middle, and end, and that the events always progress in a clear, chronological order. Me, I’ve always enjoyed stories that play around with time. Time travel, jumping across timelines, non-linear narratives. To quote the famous TV show Doctor Who, “People assume that time is a strict progression from cause to effect, but actually from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey… stuff.” The beginning and end for any story is arbitrary, if you think about it. 

My first middle grade novel, No Ordinary Thing, was a time traveling story. The book is told in a dual narrative, featuring two main characters. One lives in New York during the 1900s. The other lives in the same city a century later. Through the time traveling snow globe, the two characters meet at different stages in their lives.

Admittedly, writing such a book was a colossal challenge. I had to keep track of all the time jumps and dates, when the characters met, overlapping timelines, etc. This was in addition to the extensive amount of stuff that already needs attention when editing with a publisher, such as character development and pacing. Looking back, I’m not sure how I did it. 

In addition, time travel has an inherent paradox. It doesn’t always make sense when you think about it. But that’s part of the appeal (or challenge). I like stories that are more open-ended, stories that don’t fill in all the holes and leave things open to the reader’s interpretation. I enjoy magic realism, where the rules of the magic are not explained. 

Still, once I finished revisions for No Ordinary Thing, I told myself, Okay, no more time travel stories again!

Ironically, my second middle grade novel, The Dreamweavers, also jumps around in time, but in a different way. This book was easier to write because the narrative was much more straightforward. The Dreamweavers takes place in ancient China and follows a city that has fallen under a mysterious curse. Folks around the city know it as the City of Ashes—a forlorn place of abandoned homes and empty streets. Once upon a time, however, the city had been full of life and laughter. Through flashbacks, The Dreamweavers explores the tragic events that had happened to the city, and how the effects ripple across generations to the present day. 

This device is used in many of my favorite stories. The book Holes by Louis Sachar, for example, also spans across multiple generations. The book follows both the main character’s life, as well as his great-great-grandfather’s storyline. We see how events that happened nearly a century ago affect the present. One of my favorite TV shows, Avatar: The Last Airbender, also explores this idea. The Avatar is a master who has been reincarnated continually through previous lifetimes. Throughout the show, we see flashbacks of his previous lives, and how the mistakes of past leaders have influenced the future. 

There’s a popular quote that I live by: “Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.” History is never truly in the past. You can zoom out thirty, fifty, five hundred years, and you’ll still find traces of the past in modern day life. Laws and concepts from ancient Rome are being applied even today. Government systems and landmarks are shaped from millenniums past. It’s impossible to live apart from the past, to view it as a forgotten relic.

That’s why I enjoy writing stories that explore how the past intertwines with the future. In The Dreamweavers, the mysterious curse that afflicted the City of Ashes is the same one that fell upon the descendants of a particular family line, due to a crime committed by one of their ancestors. The descendants are not responsible for their ancestor’s crime. At the same time, however, our actions do affect people in future generations. The Dreamweavers explores the nuances of this. No Ordinary Thing goes one step further such that future events impact the past, due to the implications of time travel, but the idea remains the same. All our moments in life are interconnected with other peoples’.  

Maybe one day I can be as skilled as Christopher Nolan, who brings non-linear storytelling to a whole new level in his mind-bending films. It might be a little while before I can write book in reverse.

Tenet (2020) - IMDb

Meet the author

A person smiling under a tree

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G. Z. Schmidt is the middle grade author of No Ordinary Thing and The Dreamweavers, which released in September 2021. She was born in China and immigrated to the U.S. when she was six. She grew up in the Midwest and the South, where she chased fireflies at night and listened occasionally for tornado/hurricane warnings. She received her BA in Economics from Wellesley College. She currently lives in Southern California with her husband and their tuxedo cat.

Website: https://gzwrites.com

About The Dreamweavers

Twin siblings journey through the City of Ashes and visit the Jade Rabbit to save their grandpa in this Chinese folklore-inspired fantasy adventure.

Since their parents’ strange disappearance several years ago, 12-year-old twins Mei and Yun have been raised by their grandfather, who makes the best mooncakes around using a secret ingredient.

On the day of the Mid-Autumn Harvest Festival, the emperor sends his son to sample Grandpa’s renowned mooncakes—but instead of tasting wonderful, they are horrible and bitter, strangely mirroring the odd, gloomy atmosphere and attitudes that have been washing over the village in the last few days. Grandpa is arrested for insulting and harming the prince, and Mei and Yun realize they are the only two people who will come to Grandpa’s aid.

The twins set out on foot for the long journey to the emperor’s palace where Grandpa’s being taken, but a surprising stop in the eerie City of Ashes, a visit with the legendary, mystical Jade Rabbit, and an encounter with a powerful poet whose enchanted words spread curses, influence just how Mei and Yun will manage to clear their grandfather’s name.

ISBN-13: 9780823444236
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 09/14/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

The Best of Both Worlds, a guest post by Maisie Chan

My debut novel Danny Chung Sums It Up opens with Danny stealth drawing a Druckon – a mutant duck with a Chinese dragon’s head. Danny thinks it’s the “best of both worlds.” I didn’t realize this duality was a theme of the book until someone else pointed it out. There is a sense throughout the book of belonging in two different spaces for diasporic heritage children such as Danny. And indeed for myself, a British Chinese writer living as someone who looks Asian, in a country where there you don’t see Asians on TV or in books.

The title of my novel is a little play on words. Danny Chung doesn’t think he is good at math, sums are not his thing and he has some things to say about it all. He is definitely not the model minority stereotype that is often seen of Asian kids: geeky, glasses wearing, uncool…Danny is really cool (he just doesn’t realize it yet), he draws fantastic comics and has a fantastic imagination.

Being universal versus being specific

When writing the novel, I had two things in the back of my mind. Firstly, I wanted any young reader to relate to Danny no matter what gender they were, what ethnicity or nationality. Danny is a child who wants to be his own person and not always bow to the expectations of his parents or wider society. The universal themes of the book could be about many children that are in school navigating friendships and family life. Secondly, I wanted to center a British Chinese family rather than have just one token British Chinese boy. There are little details I put into the book such as the Chinese characters always taking their shoes off, the fight to pay the restaurant bill and many more things that I have witnessed between Chinese families around the world. Danny is quick to tell us that all Chinese people are not the same. Even though the book brings forth microaggressions as a normal occurrence, and particular Chinese family ways of thinking in the ‘Chinese Way’ – the novel really sets out to debunk and question ideas that there is only one kind of Chinese person.

Nai Nai is based on my friend’s grandmother who arrived in my hometown of Birmingham, U.K. when she was aged 92. She was short, very wrinkly, and full of life even at that age. She was strong and very brave in my eyes for making such a trip so late in her life. Nai Nai was also based on my own grandmother Wai Ping who I met in my late 20s. I used to stay at her house overnight so we could get to know each other but we couldn’t speak each other’s language, I didn’t speak Cantonese and her English was fairly limited. However, we could communicate. I myself moved to a country where I couldn’t speak the language, I arrived in Taipei during my mid-twenties and had to point to photographs of food to make myself understood. Again, that experience taught me that humans can get along, they can make friends with someone who is different from them. And this plays out when Nai Nai makes a best friend in Mrs. Cruikshanks. There is a sharing of culture and of emotion as the two ladies find out what the best of each other’s world is. Mrs. Cruikshanks sharing her love of bingo and Nai Nai sharing her exotic fruits. In today’s divisive society, I felt that a story such as this one was important. There are so many stories made up of fear of the ‘other,’ fear of the ‘foreign’ – a sense of them and us – I hope my novel usurps those notions that someone is better than anyone else.

My friend’s grandmother, who Nai Nai is based on.

I think my novel is also a timely book, as hate crimes against Asian Americans, and anyone who looks Chinese have increased massively. The linking of Covid-19 with sinophobia around the world has created and reimagined the idea of ‘otherness’ and ‘yellow peril’ – Danny Chung Sums It Up is a book about hope, about kindness and acceptance. Danny and his family experience joy and there are many moments of laughter and lightness in the book in a time that has been very heavy for many Asians around the world.

Stealth learning and entertaining at the same time

The best of both worlds for me means that I can tell a narrative centering a British Chinese family, however there is also a story that will educate but also entertain. Danny Chung has creativity as part of its heart. Danny’s love of drawing is integral to who he is, and the book has many of his drawings throughout. And as the title suggests there may be a smidgen of math too – the book has something for everyone! It has something for readers who are fond of math and for those who aren’t! I like to call it ‘stealth learning’ – in Danny Chung, the reader might learn about a family a little different to their own, or they may learn about an interesting math topic, or about some yummy food they’ve not heard of before.

I hope that when readers finish Danny Chung Sums It Up they feel a little more hopeful about humanity and perhaps about themselves.

Meet the author

Maisie Chan is a British Chinese author. She has written early reader books for Hachette and HarperCollins; a collection of fairy tales, myths, and legends in Stories From Around the World for Scholastic; as well as many stories for The Big Think, a well–being curriculum based around stories for elementary school children. She also started the group Bubble Tea Writers to support and encourage new British East and Southeast Asian writers in the UK. When Maisie isn’t writing, she enjoys yoga, dim sum, and singing really loud. She has lived in the U.K., U.S., and Taiwan. Originally from Birmingham, Maisie now lives with her family in Glasgow.

To learn more about author Maisie Chan, visit her website maisiechan.com or on social media via Twitter @maisiewrites and Instagram @maisiechanwrites.

About Danny Chung Sums It Up

A touching and funny middle-grade story about a boy whose life is turned upside down when his Chinese grandmother moves in

Eleven-year-old Danny’s life is turned upside down when his Chinese grandmother comes to live with his family in England. Things get worse when Danny finds out he’ll have to share his room with her, and she took the top bunk! At first, Danny is frustrated that he can’t communicate with her because she doesn’t speak English—and because he’s on the verge of failing math and Nai Nai was actually a math champion back in the day. It just feels like he and his grandmother have nothing in common. His parents insist that Danny help out, so when he’s left to look after Nai Nai, he leaves her at the bingo hall for the day to get her off his back. But he soon discovers that not everyone there is as welcoming as he expected . . .

Through the universal languages of math and art, Danny realizes he has more in common with his Nai Nai than he first thought. Filled with heart and humor, Danny Chung Sums It Up shows that traversing two cultures is possible and worth the effort, even if it’s not always easy.

ISBN-13: 9781419748219
Publisher: ABRAMS
Publication date: 09/07/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Opportunities Instead of Opponents: Exploring Competition in New Middle-Grade Series, a guest post by Mary Amato

We give our kids lots of opportunities to compete, whether it’s in sports, academics, or the arts. We teach them to train physically, to grind through the drills, to build up their strength, speed, stamina—whatever the performance requires. But how do we teach our kids to develop a healthy mindset toward competition?

One way is to make sure and share real-life stories of goodwill between athletes. Take this year when Qatar’s Mutaz Barshim and Italy’s Gianmarco Tamberi decided, after tying, to share an Olympic gold in the men’s high jump at the Tokyo Games rather than settle the score with a jump off. Each agreed that their opponent deserved the medal as much as they did. “This is beyond sport,” Barshim said, according to Time Magazine. “This is the message we deliver to the young generation.”

Life Lessons From Sport and Beyond, the inspiring and information-packed podcast from British sports commentator Simon Mundie is full of such stories from world-class athletes, coaches, and psychologists and can be a great teaching tool. 

But what else can we—the teachers, coaches, media specialists, and parents—do on the ground, at school, or at home to help our children and teens when they come face to face with the negative aspects of competition? How do we help them deal with specific emotions that can arise during competitive experiences, emotions such as toxic jealousy, defeatism, or self-loathing? 

As a children’s and YA book writer, I am exploring this in my new middle-grade fiction series called Star Striker. In the first book, Game On!, the main character Albert is overwhelmed with jealousy during his first middle-school band concert when his rival on the soccer field, Trey Patterson, steps out to perform a special saxophone duet with Albert’s crush, a classmate named Jessica.

As Mr. Chaimbers introduced the name of the song, Albert continued to drill his glare at Trey’s back, his jealousy a hot magma bubbling throughout his body. A series of fantasies fired through his mind: Trey tripping, Trey blowing a hideously wrong note, the audience laughing, the audience booing, the audience throwing rotten tomatoes, Trey having a panic attack, a legion of vampire bats swooping down from the rafters and chasing him off the stage . . . Fail, Trey, Fail.

Yes, Albert’s jealousy is extreme, but some of level jealousy is a common response to competition—and it never feels good. It’s hard to get into the positive flow state that makes for a great performance or to enjoy performing when your mind is churning with negativity. And it’s hard to sustain a life-long love for your art or your sport if your experience is mired in emotional toxicity. 

In Game On!, Albert learns a three-step meditation from his extraordinary new coach Kayko, and this helps him on the field, at home, and on stage. Here is the nutshell:

  1. Accept without judgement what you are feeling.
  2. Send kind thoughts to yourself.
  3. Send kind thoughts to the person with whom you are in conflict (an opponent, a rival, etc.)

My boiled-down, three-step recipe is based on a combination of the principles of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and its offshoot Acceptance and Commitment Therapy as well as metta meditation, which is a practice involving sending kind thoughts both inward and outward. 

So what might this process look like in action? As Albert’s rival and his crush begin their duet and jealousy rears its ugly head, Albert begins his three-step silent meditation. He first acknowledges his negative impulses and responds first by forgiving himself for having these thoughts. Then he focuses his attention on sending kind thoughts to his rival Trey instead of silently chanting for Trey to fail. May you play well, Trey, Albert chants. May you feel joy. And here’s what happens:

Something unexpected rose up from way underneath the hot magma: a tiny bubble of delight. He was shocked, but he actually felt better wishing Trey well than wishing disaster on him. He felt large instead of small. May you play well, Trey. May you feel joy . . .

It felt good. He imagined energy spilling out of him and traveling through invisible threads . . . to Trey and to Jessica. He imagined that they could feel his energy flowing into them and that it radiated out through their fingertips into their saxophones and out into the auditorium. He imagined it traveling to the ears of his nana, his mother, his sister. A smile spread across Albert’s face. This was good. This was right.

This meditation not only helps Albert to feel better, it helps him to perform better when it’s his turn to play, and it helps him to enjoy the entire experience. 

This three-step meditation might sound too saccharine or too simplistic to some. It is positive, radically so. And it is simple in theory. But in practice, it isn’t easy to acknowledge negative impulses, or to forgive ourselves for thinking negative thoughts, or to summon the good will to genuinely wish rivals well. All three of these steps require practice. Just as we teach our athletes, pianists, and dancers to practice their physical skills, and we could also teach them to practice these psychological skills. 

I didn’t set out to write the Star Striker series to teach this meditation. The series is not a self-help textbook. It’s an adventurous, sci-fi sports story. But authors find that our own experiences have a way of seeping into the work. I’m not an athlete, but I’ve felt anxiety about performing as a musician. And I’ve learned about athletic competition through my 26-year-old son Simon Amato’s experience as an athlete, trainer, and co-founder of the fitness company Life of Gains. I know that competition can be a driver of personal growth if it’s framed in a healthy way. 

Instead of responding to rivalry with the desire to tear down an opponent, we can respond with the desire to build up our own skills. “Training with or playing against athletes that are stronger can push you to work harder,” my son Simon says. “Opponents can be opportunities. I’m always grateful when I get to play a game against great athletes.” 

Over the years, I have received so many letters from young readers who have let me know that a character’s experience has moved them—even transformed them. With this new series, I am hoping that Albert’s willingness to look directly at his own challenges and respond with positivity will resonate with my readers and inspire them to do the same.

Meet the author

Mary Amato is the award-winning author of over twenty-five works of fiction for children and young adults. Her latest book Star Striker: Game On! is about a 13-year-old athlete who not only deals with ordinary middle-school challenges but is also recruited by an extraordinary team of aliens to play in a high-stakes interplanetary soccer tournament. www.maryamato.com

About Star Striker: Game On!

Join Albert and a group of ragtag aliens as they dribble, cross, and score across the galaxy in this soccer-themed story of unlikely friendships.

The day that aliens abducted 13-year-old Albert Kinney was the day he was hoping to make the school soccer team.But that’s the way life works sometimes, especially for Albert.

Astonishingly the Zeenods, don’t want to harm Albert, they want him to play soccer. And so, Albert jumps at the chance to join the Zeenods. Yet just as he is introduced to the specifics of their game and all their high-tech gear, he faces a series of direct threats to his life. Does someone have a mysterious vendetta against Albert? Or does their first opponent, the ruthless team from Planet Tev, want to guarantee that they win?

Action-packed, yet filled with humor and heart, Game On! is the first book in a series that features thrilling play-by-play soccer scenes and an intergalactic plot with far-reaching consequences for the Zeenods—and Earth.

ISBN-13: 9780823449118
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 09/07/2021
Series: Star Striker
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Bringing a Historical Worldview to the Present, a guest post by Michelle I. Mason

I’ve always been fascinated by time travel, but have you ever noticed how most time travel stories follow a certain pattern?

Like, for example, Back to the Future (one of my personal favorites!):Doc Brown’s goal is to master time travel. Then Doc is killed, and Marty McFly travels to the past by accident. Now Marty spends the entire movie trying to find a way to return to the present.

Or, there’s the other kind of setup, like Doctor Who: A time traveler hops around to different moments, either visiting to learn something and encounter interesting people, or perhaps even to correct a wrong. But still, the end game is to return to the present. They almost never stay in the other time, unless there’s some sort of alternate reality situation.

Of course, there are exceptions. But after watching and reading countless time travel movies, TV shows, and books, I wanted to attempt something different. In Your Life Has Been Delayed, a group of people travel forward twenty-five years, but the end goal is to figure out how to live with what’s happened rather than return to their own time.

Which presented a new challenge. This book is not historical. Except for a few pages in the first chapter, it takes place entirely in the present, but the main character, a seventeen-year-old girl from 1995, has a historical worldview. So, the next step was figuring out how to imagine her reactions to life in an entirely new century.

As someone who lived through the nineties, I started by making my own list of things I thought had changed during the past twenty-five years, but then I had to dive into deeper research. Ask someone what year they started using a particular device regularly or watched a certain show, and they might tell you absolutely, one hundred percent, positively that they know. But when they look it up, they’re off by as many as five years. Because memory and time are tricky.

I tested this out at my launch party a couple of weeks ago with an audience participation game, testing their knowledge of what was around in Jenny’s world on Aug. 2, 1995. It was interesting to see answers from both those who lived through that time and those who’ve learned about it in school or from their parents.

Why don’t we see how all of you do? (Answers follow)

Google

House phone

The Hunger Games

Cell phones

Baby Yoda

Nintendo

Social media

Marvel Universe movies

Pokemon

Amazon

Netflix

Laptops

Titanic (the movie)

Not all of the things listed above are mentioned in Your Life Has Been Delayed, but quite a few of them are. Google, for sure, which came online in 1998, as well as social media, which is a completely foreign concept to my main character, Jenny. The Hunger Games, which Jenny learns about from Dylan, the story’s love interest, sparks an interesting discussion about the rise of young adult novels. House phones and Nintendo were around in 1995, as were cell phones and laptops, although the latter two were not common. And, to clarify, cell phones were not the smart phones nearly everyone uses today. Jenny does end up binge-watching some shows on Netflix, although she’s baffled as to what happened to Blockbuster.

Some of the other questions I just threw in for fun, but here are the answers anyway:

Baby Yoda – no, but old Yoda, yes!

Marvel Universe movies – no

Pokemon – no (1996)

Amazon – technically, yes (July 1995)

Titanic – no (1998)

But just knowing when something became available isn’t an indicator of when it gained widespread popularity or was adopted by a majority of the population. Or, in particular, by my character in suburban St. Louis. For example, the movie Clueless, released July 19, 1995, depicts teens running around with cell phones—but those are super-rich teens in Los Angeles. Teens in suburban St. Louis were more likely to have pagers, if anything.

Computers and the internet are another interesting and nuanced question for teens in 1995. Teens were using computers at home and school quite a lot—to type up papers, to do design work, even learning basic programming. But there’s a difference between computers and the internet, a distinction that’s very clear to Jenny but less so to teens today, who probably can’t imagine a computer that isn’t hooked up to wifi.

One of my main resources for really digging into this difference was my own high school yearbook. Some of my favorite quotes were:

“South’s library has its own modem, though it isn’t used to get onto bulletin board systems.”

“Anytime anyone walked around South, it was a common sight to see a variety of classes learning on a computer. Right now students at PSH use computers in almost every class.”

“Taking advantage of the new Macs, students transfer their thoughts from paper to word processers in the Mac Lab.”

I wonder if these quotes put a nineties teen’s use of technology into perspective for students today, many of whom do the majority of their classwork online, submitting homework through virtual portals even as they’re sitting in a classroom.

Beyond technology, I also researched other everyday things my character would encounter, like fashion, new words that have entered our vocabulary, and even things like the fist bump, which existed in the nineties but didn’t become a widespread greeting until the Obamas popularized it in 2008. But if you ask most people, they probably think they’ve been fist bumping forever. Another one of those memory tricks!

It was fun exploring all the ways Jenny would react to a new century, and if I’d wanted to write a longer book, I could have tackled so many more topics! But, since this was where Jenny’s story ended, I hope readers might consider other ways the world changed over those twenty-five years. Perhaps other passengers, with different backgrounds and experiences, might have returned to find other changes that would impact them more personally. If so, I’d love to hear those discussions, too!

Meet the author

Photo credit: Greg Mason

Michelle I. Mason is the author of Your Life Has Been Delayed and the forthcoming My Second Impression of You (September 2022), both from Bloomsbury YA. Michelle spent ten years as a PR manager promoting everything from forklift rodeos to Hotel Olympics before deciding she’d rather focus on made-up stories. When she isn’t writing, she’s probably reading, watching too much TV, cross-stitching, baking amazing brownies, or playing the violin. Michelle lives in St. Louis with her family.

Website: https://michelleimason.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/michelleimason

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/michelleimason/

Newsletter: https://eepurl.com/hh3lwD

About Your Life Has Been Delayed

Past and present collide in a captivating YA debut about a girl who takes off on a flight and lands . . . twenty-five years later.

When Jenny boards her flight back from New York, the biggest things on her mind are applying to Columbia and reuniting with her brand-new boyfriend. But when she and the other passengers disembark in St. Louis, they’re told that their plane disappeared-twenty-five years ago. Everyone thought they were dead.

The world has fast-forwarded. Three of her grandparents are gone, her parents are old, and her “little” brother is now an adult. There’s so much she’s missed out on, not the least iPhones, social media, and pop culture. When some surprising information comes to light, Jenny feels betrayed by her family and once-best friend. She’s also fighting her attraction to Dylan, a cute and kind classmate who has an unusual connection to her past. And then there’s the growing contingent of conspiracy theorists determined to prove that Flight 237 hides a sinister truth. Will Jenny figure out how to move forward, or will she always be stuck in the past?

Debut author Michelle I. Mason offers a smart and funny high-concept debut about the most unbelievable of life changes-and the parts of yourself that can always stay the same.

ISBN-13: 9781547604081
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 09/07/2021
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

Believing, a guest post by Mark Oshiro

In many ways, I consider The Insiders— my middle grade debut—both the most magical and the happiest book I’ve ever written. That was deliberate; I wanted to challenge myself as a writer after having completed two (frankly) emotionally intense young adult novels. The joy was easy to find, too! At the center of this novel was a magical Room that allowed three queer and/or trans kids to not only find friendship in one another, but to gather the strength to face the problems they were having in their own lives.

Yet there’s a real-life event I experienced in seventh grade that informed the emotional core of Héctor Muñoz’s journey over the course of the novel. And I want to talk about what happens when adults don’t believe children.

Trigger Warning: For discussion of homophobia, bullying/abuse

Some context: The Insiders follows Héctor Muñoz as he is forced to move from the open-minded community of San Francisco to the suburbs of Orangevale, CA. There, he’s not just an outsider because of how he dresses or what he’s interested in, but he becomes the target of a trio of bullies who toe the line with homophobia. So, Héctor does as he is supposed to: He tells an adult (Ms. Heath, the head of security) that he’s being bullied.

Because Héctor’s bully is the ever-popular Mike, Ms. Heath refuses to believe Héctor.

I have no interest as an author in sanitizing the world for young readers. While The Insiders is certainly funnier than my YA novels, I also dig deep into some heavy themes. But I must admit that I did not exactly replicate the incident I went through within the pages of the book. I grew up in Riverside, CA during a time when homophobia had a firm grip on everyone around me. To say it was open and allowed doesn’t quite capture what it was like to be a kid then.

The bullying I was subjected to was consistent, intense, and highly specific. In particular, it was my tight clothing (this was the age of baggy pants and oversized shirts) that gained the most ire, and I came to school each day anticipating that I’d be called a homophobic slur.

One of my bullies escalated to physical attacks around Thanksgiving that year, and it continued until… well, I feel no need to recount what he did in detail here. It was bad enough that I had to go to the nurse, who then encouraged me to speak to our school’s counselor. At that point, I had, like many of my peers, been conditioned to believe that adults were there to protect you in these settings. If you see something, say something. So, as I had been taught, I told the counselor the truth. I explained (in great detail at the time) what this boy had been doing to me and how his actions had sent me to the nurse’s office.

Her response was to tell me that none of this would have happened if I didn’t invite it upon myself.

She proceeded to blame the bullying on me: on my soft voice, on my over-expressive hand gestures, on my “revealing” clothing, on a young boy who could not control who he was. She said I was exaggerating what he did to me; she said that I faked the trip to the nurse’s office.

I don’t think it’ll be surprising that for years afterward, I did not share a single vulnerable thing about me to another adult. Not my parents, not a teacher, not a counselor or administrator. Indeed, as things in my home life got worse, and I became homeless in high school, I more or less had to be FORCED to tell an adult what I was going through.

There are few things more isolating than not being believed. While Héctor’s journey is very different than my own, it was born from the same place. In his case, though, his initial solution is a hint of the speculative: a janitor’s closet that keeps appearing around campus to protect him. And while it serves a necessary role, I never wanted this to be the answer. Not for Héctor and certainly not for the larger story I was telling in The Insiders.

Why don’t we listen to children? Why don’t we believe them? I remember being constantly told that I’d understand something more when I got older, and here I am, not far from my 38th birthday, and you know what? That thing I didn’t like? That act that felt wrong? I STILL FEEL THE SAME WAY ABOUT IT! It was just easier for the adults in my life to refuse to actually listen to me rather than treat me like… well, a whole person with agency.

The Insiders has many other secrets and surprises in its story (including how Héctor resolves the issue with his bullies). But this aspect is one I’m open about right from the start: I want kids to be believed. I don’t want other people to grow up being afraid to tell the truth or to see vulnerability as a weakness, as something to be guarded against. I am very proud of this book, but I’m most proud of how I’ve written the version of myself I wish I was. If anything, I hope it inspires other queer youth to be more fully themselves so that we don’t need to have metaphorical closets to hide in.

Except the magic ones, of course!

Meet the author

Photo credit: Zoraida Cordova

Mark Oshiro is the Schneider Award-winning author of the YA books Anger Is a Gift and Each of Us a Desert. When they are not writing, they are busy trying to fulfill their lifelong goal: to pet every dog in the world. The Insiders is their middle grade debut. Visit them online at markoshiro.com

Buy link:

https://www.littleshopofstories.com/book/9780063008106

About The Insiders

Three kids who don’t belong. A room that shouldn’t exist. A year that will change everything.

Perfect for fans of Rebecca Stead and Meg Medina, this debut middle grade novel from award-winning author Mark Oshiro is a hopeful and heartfelt coming-of-age story for anyone who’s ever felt like they didn’t fit in.

San Francisco and Orangevale may be in the same state, but for Héctor Muñoz, they might as well be a million miles apart. Back home, being gay didn’t mean feeling different. At Héctor’s new school, he couldn’t feel more alone.

Most days, Héctor just wishes he could disappear. And he does. Right into the janitor’s closet. (Yes, he sees the irony.) But one day, when the door closes behind him, Héctor discovers he’s stumbled into a room that shouldn’t be possible. A room that connects him with two new friends from different corners of the country—and opens the door to a life-changing year full of friendship, adventure, and just a little bit of magic.

ISBN-13: 9780063008106
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/21/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

The Strength in Family Stories, a guest post by Alda P. Dobbs

I didn’t have much as a kid – no roller skates, no video game console; no summer trips to Disneyland, or winter outings to the ski slopes. What I did have, though, was a collection of family stories that had been handed down from my mother and grandmother. They were stories rich with history, stories of survival, and stories that opened doors I’d never imagined. Hearing these stories in my youth and telling them became part of me, my identity, so much so that I considered becoming a writer.  However, since English was my second language, I found that math and science came easier in school, and so I put away my dreams of being a writer and studied to become an engineer instead.

Thirty years later I decided to chase my dream of being a writer and to finally tell the stories that had fascinated me as a child. But when I sat down in front of my blank screen with fingers itching to type away, I couldn’t bring myself to press the first key. I had unanswered questions. Had the events of my old family stories truly happened? Had the truth behind one of my favorite tales, the one about my great-grandmother escaping the Mexican Revolution, been stretched to give her story an edge? At first, sensing the daunting research effort required to confirm the family tale, I wanted to dismiss the whole thing. I told myself that stories from a different time and culture would not appeal to a young American audience.

But this story spoke to me. It nagged me and begged to be told. Before typing the first word, I raised my sleeves and dug into every book I could find, and every story that had been passed down through the generations to me about the Mexican Revolution. I had to be certain my great-grandmother’s tale of survival was true.

 Alda’s great-grandmother, Juanita Martinez

The story took place during the bloodiest year of the Mexican Revolution – 1913. My great-grandmother was nine years old when the Federales attacked her village, forcing her, her father, two younger siblings, and two cousins to cross the scorching desert by foot all the way to the United States border. Once at the international bridge, their entry into the new country across the Rio Grande was denied, along with hundreds of other refugees. I recall listening to my great-grandmother’s story, mesmerized, especially by the part about when they learned the Federales were on their way to the border town to slaughter the refugees for not having joined their army. My grandmother would go on to tell me of the panic her mother had described when the rush of mounted Federales approached the border town’s small hills. Every man, woman, and child made a run for the bridge, only to find its gates shut. My great-grandmother would recall the fright in her father’s eyes as well as the feeling of being overjoyed when the American soldiers swung the gates open. She’d always describe the story so well, I felt as if I too had run across that same bridge. My grandmother would always remind us of the immense gratitude my great-grandmother felt toward the United States for having given her family refuge.

After months of reading over forty books on the Mexican Revolution and sorting through hundreds of old newspapers and photographs, I found an article that reported my great-grandmother’s story exactly as she’d told it. Except it wasn’t hundreds of people who’d tried to run across the bridge like she’d stated, it was thousands. Over six thousand, in fact. Everything else, the desperation, the pleading, and the rage of the Federales, was exactly as she’d recounted it.

Family stories like my great-grandmother’s, along with Mexican folk music, called polka-corridos, taught me to understand the various roles women played in the revolution, bringing me closer to my roots and shaping the way I saw myself and the women in my family. The Mexican Revolution was a fight for land and freedom, but the women in it also fought for their rights. Back then, women and children lived in a society wrought by racism, classism, sexism, and violence. But with the revolution came changes in how women saw themselves and their purpose in the war. There were soldaderas, women who followed their soldier husbands or family members into battle, making sure they were fed and cared for. There were soldadas, women warriors, who picked up arms and joined the federal government or fought as a rebel, with some rebel women attaining ranks as high as general. Many women, however, were like Petra and her family – either too old or too young to fight in the revolution. Their strife was different. They faced persecution, forced conscription, famine, and the destructive effects of traveling in  desert. Their goal  was survival and the peace offered north of the Rio Grande River. Unfortunately, many young women in Latin America continue to have childhoods like Petra’s. They face violent drug wars, poverty, and illiteracy, while gender and socioeconomic barriers continue to exclude them from many opportunities.

Although my grandmother and great-grandmother are no longer living, writing and publishing my book, Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna, has brought me closer to them than ever before. I believe it’s because I’ve retold their stories. I’ve collected fragments of their histories and assembled them, making me feel whole and better understanding myself. I now understand how these horrific events shaped my culture and my views and changed the landscape of two nations forever. 

Family stories carry rhythms filled with echoes from the past. I’ve learned that these rhythms are better appreciated when they come from family stories rather than history books. When we listen to a family story, its personal connections make us more sensitive and attuned to its rhythms. This helps us develop empathy towards other cultures, other histories, and even our own past. It leads us to know and understand ourselves better in the present. By strengthening our connection with our ancestors, we make way for our humanity to flourish and touch others in our present and in our future.

There’s nothing like a family story to shed light on the perils and trials of our ancestors. My own history, like many others’, is not taught in school nor in books, and it’s our duty to reach into the past and bring out its wisdom and strength and pass it on to the next generation. There’s much to be learned from the adversities and afflictions our ancestors endured and overcame. This knowledge empowers us when we realize we too carry the same bravery, strength, and resilience to face current challenges and misfortunes. It is our responsibility to teach our children that the light of our ancestors shines within us all, and if we pay attention, it’ll guide us to build new histories with a brighter tomorrow.

Meet the author

Photo credit: Kathleen O. Ryan

Alda P. Dobbs is the author of the upcoming novel Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna. She was born in a small town in northern Mexico but moved to San Antonio, Texas as a child. Alda studied physics and worked as an engineer before pursuing her love of storytelling. She’s as passionate about connecting children to their past, their communities, different cultures and nature as she is about writing. Alda lives with her husband and two children outside Houston, Texas.

Social:

https://www.facebook.com/avdobbs

https://www.instagram.com/aldapdobbs/?hl=en

https://www.instagram.com/sourcebookskids/?hl=en

https://twitter.com/sourcebookskids?lang=en

About Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna

Based on a true story, the tale of one girl’s perilous journey to cross the U.S. border and lead her family to safety during the Mexican Revolution

It is 1913, and twelve-year-old Petra Luna’s mama has died while the Revolution rages in Mexico. Before her papa is dragged away by soldiers, Petra vows to him that she will care for the family she has left—her abuelita, little sister Amelia, and baby brother Luisito—until they can be reunited. They flee north through the unforgiving desert as their town burns, searching for safe harbor in a world that offers none.

Each night when Petra closes her eyes, she holds her dreams close, especially her long-held desire to learn to read. Abuelita calls these barefoot dreams: “They’re like us barefoot peasants and indios—they’re not meant to go far.” But Petra refuses to listen. Through battlefields and deserts, hunger and fear, Petra will stop at nothing to keep her family safe and lead them to a better life across the U.S. border—a life where her barefoot dreams could finally become reality.

ISBN-13: 9781728234656
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 09/14/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Shame on You: Desi Shame Culture and its Impact on Muslim Kids, a guest post by Farah Naz Rishi

A long time ago, my local masjid hosted a Ramadan dinner, as it always did in the holy month of fasting for Muslims. Usually, these dinners meant praying together as a community, and breaking our fast together on a potluck style meal that involved samosas, curries, and the ubiquitous, vague semblance of a pasta dish.

However, I had other plans.

After that one particular dinner, under cloak of darkness, I slipped out of the masjid and walked to the nearby Sunday school, a small cottage that had been converted into a schoolhouse. That night, it was empty of students—save for the boy I was secretly “dating” at the time, waiting for me.

I cherished these Ramadan dinners because it was the only time he and I could see each other in person. Being South Asian Muslims in a conservative community meant hiding our illicit, budding romance, even if everyone already knew about it. It didn’t matter that we were a couple of awkward teens who only snuck out to talk, face-to-face, uninterrupted (we usually only talked through text messages). As far as anyone knew, we were lovers in the dark, the epitome of sin. All our lives, we’d been taught that the performance of being a “good Muslim,” of maintaining one’s public image for the sake of family and community honor, was to be valued above all else. A lesson that clearly didn’t take.

Which is why, when we were caught that night, one uncle in our community loudly proclaimed that if we were caught alone again, he would break our legs. My parents didn’t speak to me for days.

I was fourteen years old.

In IT ALL COMES BACK TO YOU, protagonists Kiran and Deen, who dated in the past, reveal that they had made pact to hide their relationship from their family. Kiran notes that she kept her relationship with Deen a secret because she didn’t want to “add stress” to her family: “Dating in the casual sense,” she says, “is still frowned upon Muslim communities, and it’s not something you can openly talk about unless you’ve practically made a formal Jane Austen-style declaration that you’re in pursuit of a life partner.” In the Muslim community I grew up in, this was precisely the case; dating carried a stigma, and that to date meant that I was a sinner, that I must have a weak faith. Regardless of my own religious beliefs—individual beliefs that I was still developing myself, on top of everything else—it felt that my community demanded I follow their brain trust iron-clad rules. That in some way, developing my own personal beliefs was wrong, too.

I wasn’t alone in this feeling. Although there are exceptions, many South Asian teens are expected to live up to their parents’ origin country’s cultural and religious standards, or at the very least, do so on the surface—all in the name of maintaining public image and family honor. And when one fails to do so, like in the case of Deen, one carries that shame and guilt for years to come, a weight that drowns you in a sea of expectation, and can lead to a self-destructive spiral.

The concept of honor reflects a family’s reputation and prestige within a community; and individual actions can raise of lower the entire family’s honor. Looking back on my own past experiences, it almost makes sense why some Muslim teens want to leave their community altogether: It gets exhausting seeing everything through the lens of shame and honor. Every act in life carries the extra consideration of, how would this affect my family and community? As if life isn’t already difficult as it is for a brown teenager.

Also exhausting? Being a second-generation immigrant teen balancing mainstream Western cultural norms and one’s family’s traditional values. It can often feel like an isolating experience, growing up too “westernized” to be accepted by the motherland, but too brown to be anything else. You are forever the Other. It makes sense, then, to find love with a fellow misfit trapped in the same limbo space. In this love, you can find an ally: someone who understands why you can’t go to sleepovers with friends from school, why you can’t go to school dances, and why sometimes it feels impossible to reconcile the need for emotional connection with your parent’s religious views.  

But for those teens who aren’t lucky enough to find that ally, the sense of isolation can prevent them from seeking help when they need it most. In the case of Deen’s older brother, Faisal, the pressures of growing up in an influential family, of being anything less than perfect, became too much to handle. And instead of having an open, transparent conversation—one necessary for healing—Faisal’s parents tell him to hide his pain for the sake of the family’s honor. Of course, this eventually results in Faisal’s sense of failure reaching an unavoidable and dangerous fever pitch. For many, this is an experience far from fiction. As “shame culture” is most utilized as a method of control in Asian communities, Asian American young adults are the only racial group with suicide as their leading cause of death (source: https://theconversation.com/asian-american-young-adults-are-the-only-racial-group-with-suicide-as-their-leading-cause-of-death-so-why-is-no-one-talking-about-this-158030).

I wrote IT ALL COMES BACK TO YOU because I wanted my younger self to feel seen and understood. I wanted a wider audience to understand how difficult it was to grow up, for better or worse, in a tight-knit community that felt like it was always watching, and how the threat of shame can have very real, dangerous consequences on our mental health, and stain the perfectly innocent act of growing up.

My parents and I never spoke again of that night at the Sunday School. Despite their obvious disappointment with me, they carried on as if nothing happened. Instead of using it as a learning opportunity, a chance to connect and know more about their daughter’s personal life, they swept it under the rug. I suppose the public shaming we received was enough.

But there’s no room for growth if we’re not allowed to make mistakes. The irony is that using “shame culture” as a weapon to control often drives teens to hide under cloak of night, and internalize that hiding our shame is better than communicating it—the original problem that drove Kiran and Deen apart in the past. This is precisely why I wrote IT ALL COMES BACK TO YOU: to show South Asian Muslim teens who are finally able to break the silence—and that ultimately, the most important lesson any teen can learn is that despite those who pretend otherwise, we’re human, flaws and all.

And there’s no shame in that.

Meet the author

Farah Naz Rishi is a Pakistani American Muslim writer and voice actor, but in another life, she’s worked stints as a lawyer, a video game journalist, and an editorial assistant. She received her BA in English from Bryn Mawr College, her JD from Lewis & Clark Law School, and her love of weaving stories from the Odyssey Writing Workshop. When she’s not writing, she’s probably hanging out with video game characters. She is the author of I Hope You Get This Message. You can find her at home in Philadelphia, or on Twitter and Instagram @farahnazrishi. Learn more at https://farahnazrishi.com.

About It All Comes Back to You

Two exes must revisit their past after their siblings start dating in this rom-com perfect for fans of Sandhya Menon and Morgan Matson.

After Kiran Noorani’s mom died, Kiran vowed to keep her dad and sister, Amira, close—to keep her family together. But when Amira announces that she’s dating someone, Kiran’s world is turned upside down.

Deen Malik is thrilled that his brother, Faisal, has found a great girlfriend. Maybe a new love will give Faisal a new lease on life, and Deen can stop feeling guilty for the reason that Faisal needs a do-over in the first place.

When the families meet, Deen and Kiran find themselves face to face. Again. Three years ago—before Amira and Faisal met—Kiran and Deen dated in secret. Until Deen ghosted Kiran.

And now, after discovering hints of Faisal’s shady past, Kiran will stop at nothing to find answers. Deen just wants his brother to be happy—and he’ll do whatever it takes to keep Kiran from reaching the truth. Though the chemistry between Kiran and Deen is undeniable, can either of them take down their walls?

ISBN-13: 9780062741486
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/14/2021
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

A Final Season, a guest post by Tim Green

Although Final Season is a work of fiction, much of the story is true. Because I have already used my own kids’ names and personalities as the main characters in my Football Genius series, I’ve chosen to use everyone’s middle name in this story, including my own middle name of John. Instead of the Green family, we are the Redds. Many of the other characters, especially Ben’s teammates in football and lacrosse are based on real kids with their real names and personalities. However, some, like Tuna and Woody, are entirely fictitious. I also added two characters, Thea and Rohan, who are my grandkids and too young to have been in the actual story, but whose personalities are spot on. 

At the heart of Final Season is the question of whether football is safe for kids to play. Our family was split on this, and I contend that there is no right answer, but only a choice that parents and kids must make according to their own beliefs and priorities.

The author in his NFL days.

For me, it was the right decision, despite the cost. Football paid for my education and my kids’ educations. Football opened doors in writing, business, television, and law. Football built our family’s home on a beautiful lake in a picturesque town, and enough land for each of our kids to build their own homes. Also, being an NFL player made my biggest childhood dream come true. 

My second big childhood dream was to become a writer. I have loved reading books since the third grade. To me, books were magic. They could take me away to another time and place. They could make me laugh and make me cry. In the heroes, I could see something of myself, or something I wanted to be. In the villains, I saw the things I didn’t want to be. So, I ached to make magic of my own one day. I was fortunate to have mentors and role models as an English major at Syracuse University who are giants in the world of literature, and others who are just plain brilliant. 

So, when ALS tried to take writing away from me, I fought back hard. One of my first symptoms of the disease was the loss of strength and coordination in my fingers. I had spent nearly thirty-five years writing and therefore typing every day. When I first started out I longed for the day when the words would just flow from my mind through my fingers to the page. It took many years for that to happen, but it did, and I was loath to give it up. 

Finally, my fingers became useless, but my thumbs still had some life left in them. I knew because I could text on my smartphone pretty well.  Asked myself if I could write an entire three hundred page novel with my thumbs. My answer was, “Why not?” So, in 2017 I wrote The Big Game on my phone with my thumbs. Then my thumbs went the way of my fingers. I had to find something that could get the stories out of my mind and onto the page. A friend who I told of my dilemma found a company called Lyre Bird. They had developed a system where I could stick a dot on my glasses so a sensor could pick up the movement of my head. With it, I could move the mouse across the screen, select a letter, and press a large button to type it. 

I wrote my next book using that system, but my body continued to succumb to the disease, and I grew nervous about committing myself to another technology that would one day probably fail me. Around the same time I developed pneumonia and nearly died. To save me, the medical team had to give me an emergency tracheotomy, leaving me literally speechless. Advanced technology saved me again with a cutting edge computer program that could take all the audio book recordings I’d narrated over the years and synthesize my voice. To do this I had to use another new technology, a Tobii Dynavox Eye Tracker.  

The Tracker allows me to select letters by resting my gaze on the letters of a keyboard that takes up a little less than half of an iPad. Knowing that this method would avail itself to me for the rest of my life, I committed to the transition. Like all the previous methods for writing, it gets better with age, and the first chapter of Final Season took thrice the time as the last. Even with that improvement, I doubt I’ll ever have the fluidity of typing with my fingers. Nevertheless, I will continue to write, for you, and for me. I sincerely hope you enjoy reading Final Season as much as I enjoyed writing it. 

Meet the author

TIM GREEN is a retired professional American football player, a radio and television personality, and a bestselling author. He was a linebacker and defensive end with the Atlanta Falcons of the NFL, a commentator for National Public Radio and NFL on Fox, and the former host of the 2005 revival of A Current Affair. In 2018, Green announced on social media that he was diagnosed with ALS and was featured on 60 Minutes discussing his life and struggles with the disease. He lives in upstate New York with his wife and close to all of his five children.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authortimgreen

Instagram & Twitter: @Timgreenbooks

About Final Season

From New York Times bestselling author and former NFL player Tim Green comes a gripping, deeply personal standalone football novel about a star middle school quarterback faced with a life-changing decision after his dad is diagnosed with ALS. Perfect for fans of Mike Lupica!

With two all-star college football players for brothers and a former Atlanta Falcons defensive lineman for a father, it is only natural for sixth-grade quarterback Benjamin Redd to follow in their footsteps.

However, after his dad receives a heartbreaking ALS diagnosis—connected to all those hard hits and tackles he took on the field—Ben’s mom becomes more determined than ever to get Ben to quit football.

Ben isn’t playing just for himself though. This might be his dad’s last chance to coach. And his teammates need a quarterback that can lead them to the championships. But as Ben watches the heavy toll ALS takes on his dad’s body, he begins to question if this should be his final season after all. 

ISBN-13: 9780062485953
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/14/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

How to Pronounce Quach, a guest post by Michelle Quach

Many years ago, while reading Sideways Stories from Wayside School, I stumbled upon this tidbit in Louis Sachar’s author bio:

When Louis Sachar was going to school, his teachers always pronounced his name wrong. Now that he has become a popular author of children’s books teachers all over the country are pronouncing his name wrong.”

That made me chuckle. I was nine, and teachers had been pronouncing my name wrong for years, too.

My last name is Quach, which, like Sachar, has that elusive hard “ch” sound that has thrown off many, many Americans. I don’t blame them—“Quash” or “Quatch” both seem like perfectly reasonable guesses for a name that looks like Quach. But I didn’t see why I should have a name that sounded like “squash” or “crotch” when I could instead be a much more solid Quach. One that rhymed with nouns of substance, like “lock” and ”rock.”

In spite of the trouble, however, I’ve always liked my name. In one word, it uniquely encapsulates my family’s complicated history—a history that I’ve often found hard to explain.

Quach is an Americanized version of the Vietnamese Quách, which itself is derived from the Chinese surname 郭 (often romanized as Kwok or Guo). It’s common among people like my family, ethnic Chinese who lived in Vietnam for several generations before they immigrated to the U.S. as refugees. We might still be living in Hanoi now if it hadn’t been for the aftermath of the Vietnam War.

So whenever I’ve been asked what I “am,” the answer has been complicated. Growing up, I wasn’t exactly sure how to identify. It wasn’t quite as clean-cut as if, say, my mom were Chinese and my dad were Vietnamese. In reality, both sides of my family are technically Chinese: my ancestors originated in southern China, and the one language that almost all of us still speak is Cantonese. But my grandparents and parents were born in Vietnam—to say that they’re not really Vietnamese is like saying I’m not really American. Vietnamese has been as much part of our household as English.

Still, when I talk to Chinese people, I don’t quite feel Chinese enough, and when I talk to Vietnamese people, I don’t feel quite Vietnamese enough. This is true even when I talk to Chinese- and Vietnamese-Americans, because their histories—where their families came from and how they made their way to the U.S.—are often so different from mine.

It wasn’t until I learned the concept of diaspora that I finally began to feel seen. For the first time, I had the vocabulary to describe my muddled identity, and I learned that my family was less “Chinese” than “overseas Chinese.” Specifically, they were already overseas Chinese before they came to America, and that—with their code-switching between languages, fusion of cultural cuisines, and history of migration and displacement—has always been a distinct and valid way of being Chinese. It also, I realized, happens to be a valid way of being Vietnamese—and a valid way of being American, too.

When I started writing Not Here to Be Liked, I knew I wanted Eliza, the main character, to share my experiences as a child of Asian immigrants, but I wasn’t sure how to approach her background. I wondered if patterning it on my own would require too much explanation, and I briefly considered making her Chinese-American in a way that most readers would already understand. Ultimately, though, I wanted the book to be true to the diversity in the Asian American experience, so I gave her an identity as multifaceted as my own.

I feel incredibly fortunate that I now have the opportunity to write about characters like me, with families like mine. I’m proud to contribute in some small way to the complexity of Asian representation, and I hope that Eliza’s story will resonate with readers like my younger self.

Maybe, if I’m lucky, teachers all over the country will be saying my name, too—the right way.

Meet the author

Photo credit: Lauritta Stellers

Michelle Quach is a Chinese-Vietnamese-American who also spent a lot of time working for student newspapers–including The Crimson at Harvard College, where she earned a BA in history and literature. Currently a graphic designer at a brand strategy firm in Los Angeles, Not Here to be Liked is her first novel.

Buy Michelle’s book at one of her favorite indie bookstores, The Ripped Bodice.

About Not Here to Be Liked

Emergency Contact meets Moxie in this cheeky and searing novel that unpacks just how complicated new love can get…when you fall for your enemy.

Eliza Quan is the perfect candidate for editor in chief of her school paper. That is, until ex-jock Len DiMartile decides on a whim to run against her. Suddenly her vast qualifications mean squat because inexperienced Len—who is tall, handsome, and male—just seems more like a leader.

When Eliza’s frustration spills out in a viral essay, she finds herself inspiring a feminist movement she never meant to start, caught between those who believe she’s a gender equality champion and others who think she’s simply crying misogyny.

Amid this growing tension, the school asks Eliza and Len to work side by side to demonstrate civility. But as they get to know one another, Eliza feels increasingly trapped by a horrifying realization—she just might be falling for the face of the patriarchy himself.

ISBN-13: 9780063038363
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/14/2021
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

Debuting with Death, a guest post by Jessica Vitalis

When I was drafting what would turn out to be my debut novel, “The Wolf’s Curse,” I couldn’t have predicted that it would come out during a worldwide pandemic. With the entire world facing unimaginable levels of loss and grief, a Grim Reaper retelling might not seem like an auspicious beginning for my career.

But if it’s one thing writing this story taught me, it’s that processing grief isn’t only about resilience: It’s about rituals. It’s about community. It’s about hope –– the possibility that we might heal and, in so doing, find some measure of future happiness.

How we do that varies not only from person to person but from culture to culture. In North America, burials and cremations are the norm, along with funerals that allow loved ones to gather in remembrance of the departed. These rituals are part of our attempts to say goodbye, to come to terms with our grief. Having grown up in the United States, I thought these rituals were more or less the norm around the world.  But in researching death rituals while writing “The Wolf’s Curse,” I learned that they vary widely across cultures.

For example, some Tibetan Buddhists practice sky burials, where their bodies are left outside for birds and animals, thereby freeing the soul and continuing the circle of life. The Malagasy people of Madagascar have joyful ceremonies known as the “Turning of the Bones,” where approximately every five years, they perfume and/or rewrap their dead in fresh shrouds and dance near the tombs, and the Tinguian dress their dead in finery and seat them in a chair with a lit cigarette. One South American tribe is said to eat pieces of their dead to absorb their spirit, and the people of Kirbati exhume the skulls of the deceased to preserve and display in their homes.

Despite the many different traditions around the world, the rituals I encountered all share one common element: They bring comfort to the living. This realization was pivotal to writing “The Wolf’s Curse,” which is set in an early Renaissance-era seaside village. 

In my fictional world, the people believe that stars are actually lanterns lit by their loved ones once they reach the Sea-in-the-Sky and sail into eternity. The deceased are buried in boats with feathers, fishing gear and the other supplies they’ll need to make their journey. When my 12-year-old character loses his grandpapá and embarks on a journey to complete the old man’s Release ceremony, he’s stalked by a mythical Great White Wolf and ends up learning life-changing truths about the Wolf –– and about the nature of death.

The story is a twist on a Grim Reaper narrative, and it certainly explores grief and loss, but it also explores community, friendship and, most of all, the hope that comes with healing. The traditions and rituals might look different than the ones you and I are used to, but the emotions — the need for human connection and healing — are universal. Although I never could have foreseen the trials this year would bring, I’m grateful for the chance to share a story that might infuse a little more of this connection and healing in all our lives.

Meet the author

Jessica Vitalis is a Columbia MBA-wielding writer. She brings her experience growing up in a nontraditional childhood to her stories, exploring themes such as death and grief, domestic violence, and socio-economic disparities. An American expat, she now lives in Canada with her husband and two precocious daughters. She loves traveling, sailing and scuba diving, but when she’s at home, she can usually be found reading a book or changing the batteries in her heated socks. “The Wolf’s Curse” is her debut novel.

About The Wolf’s Curse

Shunned by his fearful village, a twelve-year-old apprentice embarks on a surprising quest to clear his name, with a mythic—and dangerous—wolf following closely at his heels. Jessica Vitalis’s debut is a gorgeous, voice-driven literary fantasy about family, fate, and long-held traditions. The Wolf’s Cursewill engross readers of The Girl Who Drank the Moon and A Wish in the Dark.

Gauge’s life has been cursed since the day he cried Wolf and was accused of witchcraft. The Great White Wolf brings only death, Gauge’s superstitious village believes. If Gauge can see the Wolf, then he must be in league with it.

So instead of playing with friends in the streets or becoming his grandpapa’s partner in the carpentry shop, Gauge must hide and pretend he doesn’t exist. But then the Wolf comes for his grandpapa. And for the first time, Gauge is left all alone, with a bounty on his head and the Wolf at his heels.

A young feather collector named Roux offers Gauge assistance, and he is eager for the help. But soon the two—both recently orphaned—are questioning everything they have ever believed about their village, about the Wolf, and about death itself. 

Narrated by the sly, crafty Wolf, Jessica Vitalis’s debut novel is a vivid and literary tale about family, friendship, belonging, and grief. The Wolf’s Curse will captivate readers of Laurel Snyder’s Orphan Islandand Molly Knox Ostertag’s The Witch Boy.

ISBN-13: 9780063067417
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/21/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years